Critics accuse Duterte of stifling Senate probe into graft

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered members of his Cabinet to get his consent before appearing at Senate investigations, fuelling accusations from activists and some politicians of an attempt to stifle scrutiny.

Mr Duterte gave the directive in a recorded televised address aired yesterday, after saying that senators probing his government's deployment of over US$1 billion (S$1.34 billion) in pandemic funds were using the hearings to further their political ambitions.

"I will require every Cabinet member to clear with me any invitation, and if I think he will be called... to be harassed, berated... I will not allow (him to attend)," he said.

This is not the first time Mr Duterte has challenged the investigative powers of Congress.

In January, he directed the head of his military detail to ignore legislative summons issued by the Senate, which was probing his guards for inoculating themselves with an unauthorised Covid-19 vaccine.

"I will limit you to what you can do with the executive department," Mr Duterte told the senators, but added that if the invitation was reasonable, then he would not stand in the way.

In a post on Twitter, activist Renato Reyes of the left-wing alliance Bayan (Nation) labelled the order as "tyrannical" and accused Mr Duterte of trying to cover up corruption.

Mr Duterte has told senators to stop probing ongoing programmes after they zeroed in on a multibillion-peso medical supplies contract his government awarded to a small capitalised firm with links to public officials. Mr Duterte, whose government is facing growing criticism over its handling of the pandemic, has said the deal was above board, and accused the senators of "stretching the hearing because it is good for elections".

Former congressman and activist Neri Colmenares urged Cabinet members to keep attending the Senate hearings because if they did not, it would breach the "wish of the people" to scrutinise deals.

Senate president Vicente Sotto has defended the Senate's record, saying last month that the Upper Chamber's investigations have led to the removal of government officials and the filing of cases against them.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'Critics accuse Duterte of stifling Senate probe into graft'. Subscribe